Critics say big tech is 'mostly useless' —but here's some tech that has changed my life drastically

  • A commentary in The Guardian suggests Silicon Valley hasn't delivered anything useful recently.
  • CNBC's Todd Haselton disagrees. Smart voice assistants and speakers, new auto technology, streaming and more has changed our lives.
CNBC Tech: me on echo
Todd Haselton | CNBC

A column published today by The Guardian suggests that Silicon Valley is overpromising consumers and that there hasn't been any game-changing tech in years.

I agree we may not end up on Mars as soon as promised, but some of the tech introduced in the last several years is game-changing.

Here's a couple of products I can think of that have already changed my life pretty drastically.

Smart home speakers

Just a few years ago I wasn't able to walk around my house and speak "Alexa, do I need a raincoat today?" and get an answer. I couldn't just walk into my living room and ask Google Assistant or Siri to play any song I can think of. I couldn't ask a voice assistant to start streaming a TV show or movie right on my TV or order soap for delivery by just using my voice. Thanks to these smart home assistants from Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, much of this is now possible.


Most wearables are junk. The Apple Watch is the one exception and Apple's made big improvements over the last several years. With the new Series 3 with LTE model, I can leave my phone at home when I take my dog for a walk and still won't miss a phone call. It also has advanced health features and has changed the way I work out (I try to close the activity rings as much as possible. It's even capable of telling me if my heart is beating too fast when it shouldn't be.

Our phones

The author's primary argument is that we haven't seen much of a revolution since the iPhone in 2007 or Facebook and Twitter's launch in 2004 and 2006. But if you gave me the original iPhone I'd give it back to you.

The industry has made baffling strides in wireless technology and processing power since 2007. We don't need portable DVD players, gaming systems, cameras, maps and other technology that's now integrated into our phones. We can unlock a phone just by looking at it, or buy almost anything we want by tapping the phone at a checkout counter.

Streaming media

If you told me in 2007 that I'd soon be able to stream any TV show, song or movie I could think of, I probably wouldn't believe you. I was still ordering DVDs from Netflix back then.

Yet all of these industries have been completely flipped. I don't buy CDs, I stream music from Spotify. I don't buy movies, I stream them on my TV using a Chromecast, a Fire TV or an Apple TV.

Even the way we drive

Semi-autonomous features now ship on plenty of new cars, but even other functions of our vehicles have changed thanks to exciting product launches. Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto have changed the way we drive in newer cars. I use Android Auto, which I think is the better technology, and can get in my car and automatically have directions home when I turn it on. I can speak a request to find a gas station, find out when the Yankees game starts or stream music. I can even speak a text message out to my wife that I'll be in home for dinner by 6:15.

Tech isn't useless

This is to say that, while we might not be setting foot on Mars any moment soon, there have been huge, wonderful changes in technology. The launches of iPhone in 2007 and Facebook back in 2004 might have been big, but its the smaller changes over a longer period of time — processing power, network speeds, smart voice assistants — that have led to massive shifts in how we interact with these products.

Silicon Valley promises a lot, and it doesn't nail some of it, but what trickles down to consumers is certainly useful.